Finding Chief Garry at a White Man’s Spring

Learning about Native heritage in Spokane

Drumheller Springs Park is – no surprise – named after a white man. He found the spring and decided the location was perfect for a slaughterhouse.

But before he sought to make a buck on free water, the Interior Salish people rested here. It was a flat hilltop with riparian trees, scattered basalt rock, and camas flowers. A lovely spot – open to the sun but providing willow shade and a view to the hills beyond.

It’s 10 acres in the middle of the city, right on the Maple/Ash couplet running north-side, west of downtown. People drive by a thousand times without a clue the park is here. A humble stone wall on the east boundary now displays art done by local members of the Spokane Tribe. But cars are driving 35 mph around a corner, and if people notice the art at all, they certainly won’t notice a brown and green wooden sign that says Drumheller Springs Park. Why? Because it sits on a hill, perched 15 feet above the sidewalk, facing the opposite direction that traffic would see, under the shade of a tree. No wonder I’ve lived here 23 years and never knew of it, despite being a park enthusiast.

As I reflect on it here in the park itself, I’m sitting on a rocky hump out in the open. There are a few Ponderosa pines within a hundred feet, and a dried up creekbed to the south. Around the south and north perimeters are homes, a reminder of the city’s encroachment.

I felt the rock and the dry moss, wondered if it was comfortable to sleep on, wondered if the moss would come back to life and offer moisture again.

I leave the woods and head to the south side to return to my car by a different way, and there across the street is a tall granite stone monument with an inscription. Chief Garry, it says, was taken by a member of the Hudson Bay Co. to a mission, and later came back to teach his people for 60 years. Whose version of his history is written, I wonder. The marvelous whites who felt educating him as a Protestant Christian would be good use of his passions? The man named Garry who insisted that the Spokane native should bear his name?

I head back into the city disgusted and bewildered, and I seek out other locations to learn more about Spokane’s favorite Native, Chief Garry.

First, I turn and see this mother, kneeling on a path with a toddler who wanted out of the stroller; they stay a while, watching, listening. The mother is unhurried, patient. Together, they enjoy “Drumheller’s” park in the way the Native Spokane Tribe members might appreciate.

The east border of Drumheller Springs Park, seen along Ash St., north of Northwest Blvd.
The steps on the left pass by what is now a tiny trickle of a stream, now flowing through a pipe.
At right, the willows in a dry creek bed on the upper portion of the park.
A monument placed across the street at the south border of Drumheller Springs Park.
At right, a mother and child pause during their stroll through the park.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Beware of Suspicious Activity

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